The Scorched Rat

Life throws you curves.  No machubby mousetter how much you prepare or how many books you read on how to be a better person in order to limit the bad things that happen in your life, the curves come.  Sometimes they hurt but most of the time they help us to grow stronger.

I come from a really jacked-up family, like most people.  To be clear, the term “jacked-up” means goofy, weird, silly at times.  What family isn’t right? Recently, I have had to make a decision that impacts my children and grandchildren and it was extremely difficult.  Not to bore you with details but sometimes we have to walk away from people, even if we love them, to avoid what we feel is abusive or bad behavior.  My parents and some of my siblings are Martians to me most days.  I do not understand them or how they can justify treating the general public so poorly and they feel the same about me most, if not all, days.  But, I love them, so I was patient; however, there comes a time when difficult decisions have to be made so I made it and proceeded to feel sorry for myself that I was put into an impossible situation with no way out.  I spent plenty of time asking God what I could do and waited for his answer, with my thumb in my mouth, filled with self-pity.

As I get older, health is always a worry.  Since I worry a lot anyway, the added stress of family “issues” caused me to begin to have severe chest pains.  When Ms. Toni finally found out about it she promptly scheduled a cardiology visit and that is where my most recent lesson began.  “You have three little grandchildren that want you to see them grow up so get your butt to the doctor!” she said.  So, I did.

I work with medical practices every day and I appreciate the job they do.  Most people don’t realize what a challenge it is to run a medical practice or hospital, especially in these times.  The amount of money and dedication it takes to keep a practice open today is breathtaking.  Doctors don’t get paid what they used to and you might be surprised if you look up what their average earnings really are after all the overhead is paid.  I respect them all and could never do the job they do at any level.

I was nervous to be in the doctor’s office to begin with.  When the nurse called my name to put me back in an exam room I admit I wanted to run back out to my car.  I had my lie all planned out for Ms. Toni in my effort not to be skinned alive for running but after a little thought I realized that her “wife radar” would no doubt pick up on my lie and I would have had to come all the way back over, this time without the comfort of skin, so I followed the nurse and sat down in the room exactly where she told me to sit.  After the doctor came in and did the exam I was elated to find out that I had to do something called a “stress test”.  Well let me tell you, they named that exam correctly.

I followed a second nurse down a long hallway to a room where two more young ladies were waiting on me with a treadmill and a computer that I affectionately named “the octopus”.  I walked through the door and saw the treadmill and thought to myself “This is not looking good.  I thought, “The lie and loss of skin might be worth it” when I noticed the octopus and considered what avenues of escape were immediately available to me.  But the two new ladies seemed kind enough, so I thought to myself, “How bad can it be?” and sat down where they told me to.

They asked me a few questions and one said “Okay, stand up and take off your shirt.”  I should have bolted right then but to be honest my fear of Ms. Toni was greater than my fear of whatever torture they might inflict on me so I complied.  Funny thing, the lady that was running the octopus computer started talking to me so I turned my head to the left to respond.  The lady to my right says “Okay, I have to shave a spot to put the leads (jumper cables) on.”  Before I could say “Oh hair no you don’t!” she reached out and started scraping hair off my chest! “Holy smokes!” I said, startled.  Folks she didn’t offer me any shaving cream or a warm towel or anything.  She just dry shaved the spots she had targeted and left me standing there looking like a rat that had been struck by lightning! I thought, “My God woman!  At least offer me a hug after that!” But I kept my mouth shut and tried to hold back the tears.

She plugged about ten thousand wires to me and told me to get on the treadmill.  “Just go as far as you can” the young one told me.  Then she started turning the little knob on Octopus’s face.  I noticed that  she had with a torturous grin on her face as I ran faster and faster.  “When you reach the point where you think you can’t go further, we will stop.”  I thought she seemed like a woman of her word, so again, I complied.

Once I got to the point that I thought I was going to croak I said, “Okay, that’s it.  I can’t go any further.”  Each word was separated by a painful gasp for air.  Do you think she kept her word?  Noooo.  She said, “Well, it would be better if you get to the next level,” and kept looking at the screen.  “What?!!” I thought, not having the air or words to argue.

Sweating through my suit pants and t-shirt (I didn’t prepare to go for a jog when I left for work that morning) I collapsed onto the chair they had placed behind me.  I remember thinking “They just tried to kill me so that it would be a shorter trip to the ER if I had a heart attack.”

All went well and after admonishment from the doctor to exercise, eat better, and get rid of whatever it was that was causing me so much stress, I went home and pledged to spend as many happy moments with Ms. Toni, my children and the grandchildren as I could, with a promise to myself to make the hard decision facing me and put it behind me.  To date, it seems to have relieved a good portion of the stress and I thank God for that.

Ms. Toni and I raised three girls and I thought I was prepared for just about anything but am quickly realizing that little boys and little girls are completely different creatures as we have been blessed with three of the coolest little cats for grandsons a couple could ask for.  Corbin is three, Declan is nearly two, and Zeb is about to be one.  I can’t keep up with any of them but I try so hard.  When they walk in the door my world stops.  There is nothing more important at that moment than hearing “Papaw!” or seeing them smile and develop each day.  It is a blessing from God every single moment I have with them.  Well, almost every moment.

Declan and Zeb were at our house on Sunday afternoon and as the girls visited with their mom and the guys sat and relaxed for a minute or two having worked all week, I decided that I would get down in the floor and entertain the babies.  Zeb has just begun to crawl well and likes to pull himself up on things and Declan thinks it is grand to bounce around on all fours trying to get Zeb to chase him.  “Com’on Papaw!” He says.  “Woof woof!”  That is baby code for “Hey, Zeb and I are playing dawg and you better keep up!”

After a few laps through the living room and into the hardest dining room floor on the planet earth we made it back to the soft space beside my beloved recliner.  I thought for a brief second that I was going to get to climb up there and take a break but Zeb had other ideas.  Still on my knees, I turned just in time to see him make a bee line toward me just smiling from ear to ear.  “Awww!” I thought.  “He is coming to see his Papaw!  How sweet!” It wasn’t long before I realized that the little stinker wasn’t necessarily being sweet and that he and little Declan had hatched a plan to lure me into a sweetness coma long enough to test how loud they could make the old man squeal.

Zeb covered the length of the living room in what seemed to be only a second or so and before I knew it he had a hold on the bottom of my t-shirt, pulling himself up toward my face, Declan was standing just to my left looking at me with a curious little smirk on his face as if he was saying with his eyes, “Wait for it, wait for it.”  Zeb looked at Declan as he climbed as if to say, “He really doesn’t realize it does he?  This is gonna be great!”

A half second later my eyes started watering and everything went into slow motion.  I saw two angelic faces smiling at me as if they loved me without question and little fingers moving so slowly that I could see the adorable little wrinkles in each knuckle and the most precious little baby fingernails ever.  In the distance, as if at the end of a long tunnel, I heard the echo’s of distant adult voices and it was as if someone had slowed life down to a snail’s pace.  I was aware of my oldest daughter holding a cell phone in full “record” mode to capture the precious moment and as the seconds ticked by I slowly turned my head back to see the face of one who would remind me that the nurse at the cardiology office was as gentle as a wind driven snow.

And then every nerve in my body seemed to scream at the same time as Zeb’s little fingers secured the hold on the chest hair I had left. My voice failed me.  All I could manage was a strangled squeak as the breath left my body and my eyes glazed over in tears.

Zeb had climbed his way up to the neck of my shirt and since the shirt had reached its elastic limit, the logical next step was to grab the patches of hair left behind by the kind nurses.

To make a bad situation worse, Zeb noticed his dear mommy standing to my right and apparently decided that he wanted to proudly illustrate how much he has grown.  He then proceeded to bounce up and down and swing from side to side, giggling like a leprechaun on a pot of gold.  Through the laughter I heard and felt a ripping as the hair gave way to the little chunky monkey’s weight.  He plopped down on his bottom and smiled like a possum eating grapes as I attempted to recover my breath and dignity.  Oh, it was adorable!

Now if you love babies like I do, and if you love their parents like I do, two things come to your mind when a beloved angel like this inflicts a massive level of pain on you.  1.  You smile at him and say “How adorable you are!” and 2.  You do not let his parents know their little cherub has caused you pain because you don’t want to hurt their feelings.  That is just the price you pay for being a good “Papaw”.

Additionally, you always try to set a good example.  Whenever you are in public or maybe even when you are at the doctor’s office, you treat the staff and nurses with kindness and love no matter that they may be trying plunge you into a coronary as punishment for all the peas and cornbread you ate the night before, even though you knew better than to eat such massive amounts of such food.

As a good husband, parent, and grandparent, you set that example no matter what and you, as Ms. Toni tells me often, “Suck it up buttercup!” and you be the better man.

But, if you are a jerk… If you care more about yourself than others… If you don’t mind decades of dirty looks and turkey bacon instead of Ms. Toni’s sweet smile and peas and cornbread, you say:  “Lady I will slap the taste out of your mouth if you touch me with that razor again!”  And, “I said I am done Lady!  If you turn that knob one more time I am gonna blow chunks all over you!” And, “You little snotty nosed, monkey booger, put that hair back where you got it!” And, “Girl, I raised you better than this, get this little pit bull off my chest or go to your room, you are grounded!” And finally, to the little “Professor Pain Planner” booger that started the “dawg game” in the first place, “Boy I will pull your ears off and eat’em if you ever coax him into making me scream that again!  Stop LAUGHING at me!!!”

That’s what one might do if one didn’t love every minute of it.

Later that evening when we were finally in bed and bragging to one another about how much the babies love me more than Mamaw Toni, I realized how lucky I am.  I thought to myself as I began to doze off in exhaustion, “Here I am looking like a rat that has been struck by lightning, too tired to lift a finger, with bruised knees and a headache, hoping that Ms. Toni can see past all that and still see me as the man she fell in love with… And I wouldn’t trade this feeling for the world.”

God had indeed blessed me beyond anything I could ever deserve.  Remember earlier when I said I had asked God what I could do during my prayers? If you recall, I admitted that I was feeling sorry for myself and to be honest, that prayer was prayed for months.  One might think that God didn’t hear me right?  But consider this, the peace came and the clarity that I was blessed beyond measure came when my prayer changed from “God, what can I do?” to “God, what can I do for you?”  It is that simple.  He required nothing of me and allowed me to gain some perspective.  During my prayers over all those months all I seemed to get from God was “Say nothing, and do no harm.”  I admit, I slipped a couple of times but having waited and having listened, it appears that He has guided me out of what was sure to be an increasingly difficult situation.  He seems to have taught me a little bit more about how to say “No.”  And that really is a weight off of my shoulders.  He did say he would ease our burdens, but I had forgotten how real that promise is.

If you haven’t considered giving God a chance in your life, I ask you this, “What do you have to lose?”  He has never failed me and trust me, he has every right to ignore me completely.  You might find that He really does know what He is doing and loves you no matter what, even if you pull out all of his hair and make him cry now and then.  He loves you more than any problem you could ever face.

May He bless and keep you.

Ken Dulaney

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